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Sound judgment


Downtown stereo store caters to lovers of the warm, round analog sound of old

Note: This story was amended to reflect the correct name of the business, which is InvestmentAudio.

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - InvestmentAudio co-owner Richard Hayes stands amongst the analog eqiupment that fills his store. He prefers the warmer tones that pre-digital audio equipment conveys, versus the colder and crisper modern sound from digital music players. Mere seconds after the first side of a jazzy, all-instrumental James Brown album from the late 1960s concludes playing, Richard Hayes makes a rapid beeline across his shop to turn the record over and lower the stylus on the first groove of side two.

His dedication to hearing the near-seamless play and warm, enveloping sound of a two-sided vinyl record indicates how seriously he takes sound, music and the vintage equipment through which he prefers to listen to them.

Hayes has turned his audiophilic passion into a mini-career with InvestmentAudio. He and his business partner Chris Stout opened the store last September in half of the former Akasha jewelry space at 12604 S.W. Farmington Road, just west of Watson Avenue.

A brick-and-mortar extension of an online business they’ve run since 2010, InvestmentAudio focuses on pre-digital, analog-based home stereo equipment — turntables, amplifiers and receivers, tape decks, speakers — manufactured mostly from the early 1960s through about 1980. Hayes, who also works in a retail sporting goods store, buys, sells — and with the help of on-site engineer Todd Wilson — refurbishes the equipment, which goes from a couple hundred dollars for an older, lower-end stereo receiver to $1,500 or more for a top-of-the-line Marantz model. He also has an impressive cache of well-preserved used vinyl records for sale.

While the shop’s low-key ambience is opposite that of a Best Buy or similar big-box sound store, InvestmentAudio is far from a dusty, kitschy shrine to outdated technology. Customers of all ages, hailing from far and wide, clamor for the equipment Hayes sells.by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - InvestmentAudio specializes in old school music players such as record players and pre-digital receivers.

“Our core customer is probably 40-plus, but we have a real strong market with young guys, hipsters, you name it,” he says. “They want this stuff. They don’t want the new.”

Devn Hayes, Richard’s wife and de facto business assistant, says one customer’s teenage son was so enthralled with the store’s turntables and vinyl records, his parents bought him a record player for a graduation present.

“It’s just fun to see how they can actually touch these things instead of just hearing about turntables and records and stuff,” she says.

Hayes, who admits to having a digital surround-sound system in the living room the couple rarely uses, sees 1970 to 1980 as the golden age of the hi-fi. That’s when analog technology was best equipped to capture the warmth of studio-recorded sound, before what he describes as the “bright” — some would say brittle — sound that digital technology brought with it.

“After 1980, they started putting in integrated chips, which changed the sound,” he says.

Hayes is diplomatic, yet matter-of-fact about the difference between old and newer sound technology.

“It’s a warm sound rather than the new stuff, which is bright — and hard to listen to for a long time,” he maintains. “The digital signal is very sharp, as opposed to the analog signal, which is more rounded.”

In his educated opinion, a clean, well-preserved vinyl record played through a mid- to high-end Marantz analog system is about the purest way to listen to recorded music from the past 60 years or so.

“Vinyl through one of these units is the best,” he says. “You do get improvement by putting a CD through (analog stereo). A lot of new stuff you buy has digital-to-analog converter units inside.”

While believing analog warmth trumps digital brightness, Hayes recognizes that some equipment has improved in quality since the late 70s.

“We’re going back in time as far as equipment, but the same is not as true with speakers,” he says. “Speakers have definitely gotten a lot better. We carry kind of a mix, with newer speakers and good stuff from the old days.”

Hayes certainly understands the portability and other benefits that make digital MP3 files and programs such as Apple’s iTunes so wildly popular. There’s nothing wrong with listening to music on an iPod or iPhone, he maintains, particularly if you have a dedicated analog system somewhere at home — ideally in a room set up exclusively for listening.

“The portability that MP3s have made available has just revolutionized music,” he says. “What’s unfortunate in the process is, with an MP3, you don’t hear what you’re missing. Just like before, there’s a certain number of people who don’t particularly care about the quality of sound, while others care a tremendous amount.”

Although he sells more equipment than actual sound, Hayes recognizes the products are simply a vehicle for enjoying music’s true essence.

“That’s why I started in the business in the first place. It’s all about the music,” he says. “When it comes to reproducing the music, a true music lover is just not going to be happy with MP3 files, an iPhone and a pair of headphones.

“It’s one of those things,” he adds. “Once somebody hears the difference, they’re smitten. It’s hard for them to go back.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - InvestmentAudio co-owner Richard Hayes sets up equipment in the store's 'Listening Room.'